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Nursing Home Abuse Laws and Attorneys in California

California Laws and Lawyers For Nursing Home Abuse

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Nursing home abuse most frequently occurs in the same nursing homes. Over a 3-year span, 71% of reported nursing home abuse in California occurred in 23% of nursing homes.

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California Nursing Home Abuse Law Explained

California has taken major steps to protect the elderly from nursing home abuse. Every county has an Adult Protective Services Hotline available 24/7. California has Operation Guardians to help protect the elderly and dependent adults from nursing home abuse. Additionally, the Department of Health and Center for Medicaid Services helps regulate California nursing homes.

California Nursing Home Abuse Statistics

In California, 13% of complaints filed against nursing homes were complaints of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation. That is double the national average.

Nursing home abuse frequently happens at the same facilities. For example, a study performed from 2000-2002 found that in California, 71% of reports of nursing home abuse occurred in approximately 23% of nursing home facilities.

Elder Population in California

In 2016, California had 39,250,017 residents and 19.2% of those residents (approximately 7,519,886) were over the age of 60. Currently, California has the highest population of people over the age of 60 in the United States. The densest populations of people over the age of 60 reside in Mono County and Placer County.

The largest population of nursing home residents is around Santa Monica (Southwest California) and San Jose (West Central California).

California Elder Abuse Laws and Protection

In 1987 Congress passed OBRA which was landmark legislation created to address standards in nursing home care. The key part of this legislation stated that a person’s condition should not worsen by being placed in nursing home care.

California takes nursing home abuse very seriously. They have three programs designed to bring accountability to anyone who abuses the elderly.

  • Violent Crimes Unit: Prosecutes crimes against the elderly in nursing facilities such as rape, murder, false imprisonment and assault and battery.
  • Facilities Enforcement Team: Investigates and prosecutes nursing homes, hospitals, and residential care facilities that adopt or promote policies and practices that lead to neglect or below standard care like providing enough staffing, preventing malnutrition or dehydration, or falsifying charts.
  • Operation Guardians: Works to identify, investigate and prosecute instances of abuse or neglect in any of the approximately 1300 skilled nursing facilities.
  • California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Licensing and Certification Division (L&C) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulates California’s nursing homes. They work together to conduct on-site inspections, respond to complaints and events, and ensure that payments meet federal requirements.

Under California law, abuse of the elderly is both a civil and criminal offense. If found guilty, nursing home abuse cases can result in fines and imprisonment.

Criminal vs. Civil Nursing Home Abuse Cases

In California, cases of elder abuse can be pursued either through the state’s criminal justice system or through civil courts. The following is the difference between criminal charges and civil cases in a nursing home or elder abuse in California:


Elder abuse as a crime can have a range of punishments depending on the age of the abused and the severity of the abuse. Punishment for elder abuse can include fines and imprisonment.

According to California Penal Code Section 368: anyone who accidentally or purposefully causes harm or death to a dependent adult or the elderly is punishable by fines and imprisonment.

The bottom line is if you are caring for someone who is elderly and you make the choice to abuse that person or neglect their needs you could face criminal charges.


Under the California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 15610 there are definitions that govern if the law has been broken. You may want to refer to this code and its definitions if you feel like your loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse.

The difference between a civil case and a criminal case is straightforward. Civil cases are handled by an attorney with experience in nursing home abuse. The family usually hires the attorney and takes the nursing home to court.

Criminal courts deal with abuse that is more violent. These cases are prosecuted under strict penal code and families have very little, if any, control of the case.

Elder Abuse in California Defined

California has specific laws that make nursing home abuse a crime. The Welfare and Institutions Code, as well as the Penal Code, contain definitions of both civil and criminal liability. These laws not only forbid physical or mental abuse of the elderly, but also the neglect, or lack of care, of the elderly.

In California, abuse can be defined as psychological, physical, financial, neglect, isolation, abandonment or sexual. These laws protect all adults in California.

Changes in California Elder Abuse Protection

As the elderly population continues to increase laws and regulations are becoming more strict and reporting nursing home abuse is getting easier. The legislation was created in 1999 to help prevent and combat elder abuse.

A 24-hour hotline was created to report abuse and offer case management service to victims. Under California law, each county is required to provide these services.

California Elder Abuse Litigation

Complaints, or claims, of nursing home abuse, can be filed with the California Department of Health, calling local law enforcement and/or calling APS (Adult Protective Services). Once the complaint is filed it is incredibly important that you contact an attorney to represent the rights of the victim and their family. The statute of limitations for victims or family members to report nursing home abuse is 2 years in the state of California.

California Elder Abuse Case Examples

Nursing home abuse cases can range based on the type of case and the amount of neglect or abuse in the case. Here are a few public examples of results in California by type of case and location:

Fall — Los Angeles — $1,250,000

Fall — San Mateo — $1,844,000

Fall — San Diego — $500,000

Abuse — Sonoma — $600,000

Abuse — Orange County — $850,000

Abuse — San Diego — $1,338,163

Medical — Error Santa Cruz — $350,000

Medical — Error Orange County — $10,200,000

Reporting Nursing Home Abuse in California

If a loved one is in immediate harm at a nursing home, call 911. If the abuse does not require immediate attention, report the incident to police by calling your local non-emergency number.

California has Adult Protective Services (APS) in every county. These agencies investigate accusations of abuse, neglect or exploitation. APS also works to educate about the requirements of reporting and are responsible for cross-reporting to law enforcement and other public agencies.

Find your local APS.

Another option for reporting nursing home abuse in California is to report nursing home abuse to the California Department of Aging Long-Term Care Ombudsman. This program is a community supported volunteer-based program and its services are free and confidential.

You may contact this organization if you have questions or concerns regarding the quality of care, suspicion of abuse (physical, mental, sexual or financial), witnessing or to request an Ombudsman attend a meeting.

The State CRISIS line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can be reached by calling 1-800-231-4024.

Retaining a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer in California

You’ve reported the abuse or neglect, now what? It’s very important that you find a law firm that specializes in nursing home abuse or has an attorney on staff who specializes in nursing home abuse cases.

To ensure your loved one is never subjected to abuse or neglect again please report any suspicion of abuse and seek legal help immediately. Start your legal case review here.

Nursing Home Abuse Support Team

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

“Aging Integrated Database,” Administration for Community Living. Retrieved from: Accessed on April 30, 2019.

“Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.” California Department of Aging. Retrieved from: Accessed on April 30, 2019.

“Adult Protective Services.” California Department of Social Services. Retrieved from: Accessed on April 30, 2019.

“Protecting care home residents from mistreatment and abuse: on the need for policy.” Risk Management Healthcare Policy. Retrieved from: Accessed on April 30, 2019.

“Crimes Against Elders, Dependent Adults, and Persons with Disabilities.” California Legislative Information. Retrieved from: Accessed on April 30, 2019.

“Elder Abuse.” California Attorney General. Retrieved from: Accessed on April 30, 2019.

“Elder Abuse.” California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. Retrieved from: Accessed on April 30, 2019.